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Evaluating ecosystem models as tools for policy development on biodiversity - IF0103

As Defra moves towards evidence-based development of policy, there is a need to integrate information across a range of scales and areas of interest in order to determine the impact that future policy decisions may have on the ability of UK agriculture to meet the biodiversity targets being set by the government. In 2005, the SURPLUS report (HS CTHS0301) suggested that ecosystem scale modelling might be a potential approach that could be used to aid the development of policy by predicting the impacts of policy decisions on land-use and biodiversity, amongst a wide range of social and economic factors. The report suggested that there was a need to develop further projects that were able to look in more detail at the range of models available and had greater clarification of the needs of specific stakeholders.

The Research Prioirites Group recommended that research should be done to enable the prediction, at the ecosystem level, of the impacts of changes in farming systems and land management on biodiversity. The aim of this desk study is to determine whether it is feasible to use ecosystem scale modelling to answer policy questions and to predict the impact that future policy directions may have on land-use, and its consequent impact on biodiversity targets.

The desk study will take changes in farmland bird populations as an example and will determine typical policy questions that need to be answered, biodiversity targets that must be met in the future and the scale at which the models will need to operate. An expert steering group will be consulted to provide guidance on these issues and indicate criteria against which the ecosystem scale modelling approaches will be judged.

Since changes in farming systems and land management are likely to alter patterns of vegetation within the landcape, the project team will need to identify features of the environment which have the greatest impact on biodiversity and farmland bird populations. By understanding how vegetation pattern and land-use affect biodiversity, it will be possible to assess and evaluate both ecosystem scale models and land management models for their ability to predict biodiversity changes.

The models wil be critically reviewed, and the strengths and weaknesses of particular ecosystem scale modelling approaches will be determined. The potential methods for integrating data across the range of scales at which the ecosystem scale models are required to operate will also be evaluated.

The priorities for future research to enable ecosystem scale modelling to be used to develop future policy in relation to biodiversity targets, particularly farmland bird populations will be identified. Recommendations will then be produced as to which approaches are appropriate for predicting ecosystem impacts of changes to farming systems and land management in relation to policy development.
The overall aim of the desk study is to evaluate whether ecosystem scale modelling approaches can be used to develop policy to meet biodiversity targets, using Defra targets for farmland birds as an example.

The project will consist of the following objectives:

1. Identify modelling approaches that can be used for predictive ecosystem scale modelling, including food web and vegetation change models.

2. Critically review selected ecosystem scale modelling approaches to determine those that can predict policy effects on habitat and biodiversity changes and their impact on farmland birds, using the criteria defined by an expert steering group.

3. Determine how to integrate data across a range of geographical scales to allow ecosystem modelling approaches to predict changes at regional and national scales.

4. Prioritise the future research necessary to develop ecosystem scale modelling approaches for policy development on farmland biodiversity.
Project Documents
• Final Report : Evaluating ecosystem models as tools for policy development on biodiversity   (343k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2006

To: 2007

Cost: £65,034
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Warwick - HRI
Allocated - WHRI              
Ecosystem Functioning              
Farm Management              
Integrated Farming Systems              
Sustainable Farming and Food Science              
Sustainable Farming Systems